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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

Do you really have to write good English to sell a screenplay?

J.J. Houston


This week's Answer: 

English as a Second Screenplay

I don't know if your full name is "J.J." or "J.J. Houston" or if you're from Houston.  But, whoever you are, thank you for your question, which brings to mind a type of Zen koan:

You don't have to write good English to sell a screenplay.

You do have to write good English to write a screenplay.

Sit quietly and meditate on that, Grasshopper, for a long time and find enlightenment.  Or a sore behind.  Whichever comes first.  Not that you can't be enlightened and have a sore behind.  Which is much like "not that you can't sell a screenplay and write good English.."

Actually, J.J. from Houston or J.J Houston, I was recently given a screenplay that was based on a clever premise, but was written in such poor English that I could do nothing with it (except give it back). 

It appears that the abused license of vertical stacking has become in some cases "vertical vacancy of correct English."  This latest fad seems to be such a screenwriter's way of proclaiming, "So the words aren't all correct.  You figure out what I didn't do right."

My normal response to that type of script is, "What I figured out is that the writer doesn't know how or want to know how to write a screenplay."

Notice the koan-like words above.  I purposely left something out to see if you, dear reader, could figure it out on your own.  Something is missing to make the "koan" true.  Do you know what that something is? (Pause here if you want to ponder my profound question.  Or just keep reading.)

Here's the full "koan."

You don't have to write good English to sell a screenplay.

You do have to write good English to write a screenplay.

(That is, if the screenplay is in English.)

DcH 

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